Selling or buying a car often involves a significant amount of money. However, the threat of car scams introduces the possibility that you may not always achieve the desired result in terms of buying or selling a car for a fair price.

Whether you are considering buying or selling your vehicle, it’s imperative that you are aware of the practices that fraudsters may employ to scam you. Additionally, it’s important that you understand the measures you can take to protect yourself from such threats.

This guide will give you an overview of common car scams and highlight some of our tips to avoid them.

What are car scams?

Car scams are techniques used by fraudsters to deceive you in order to make a financial gain. These scams come in various forms, including:

  • Buying and selling scams
  • Internet car buying scams
  • Car auction scams
  • Car export scams
  • Dodgy car buyers

Car scams can be sophisticated, they can be crude, and they can be easy to fall for. However, at Motors we are committed to to ensuring that you are equipped with the information needed to make sure car scams don’t affect you.

Common car scams

Regardless of age or experience, anyone can fall victim to car scams. However, with the right knowledge, you can protect yourself from these fraudsters. Here are some common car scams which you need to be aware of:

Fake insurance and ghost brokers

Fake insurers or ghost brokers claim to be legitimate companies, but really, they sell fake or forged insurance policies that are invalidated by misinformation. In some cases, fake insurers will set up a genuine insurance policy, cancel it, keep the refund, and leave the victim unaware.

Typically, this car scam targets new and young drivers by offering highly discounted insurance deals.

How to detect fake insurers

Fake insurers or brokers typically place adverts on social media, student forums and websites, money-saving and cheap insurance forums, and even on university notice boards. Some ghost brokers will even approach people (typically students) in person.

If you’re approached for an insurance policy in any of those ways, be extra cautious and check their details. If they don’t have a website or they only use email or a mobile phone for contact, do not buy the insurance.

How to avoid ghost brokers

To avoid this car scam, you should get your car insurance from a branded insurer or use well-known comparison sites to generate the best possible deals. You can also check insurance brokers at the British Insurance Brokers’ Association to see if they are authorised and legitimate. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.


DVLA scams

This phishing scam involves a fraudster posing as the DVLA or another official body such as GOV.UK.

As part of this car buying scam, motorists will be sent fake emails and texts claiming to be from these official bodies. These emails and texts will offer you an outstanding refund on car tax (or something similar) and it will include a link, or make a request for personal details, including contact and banking information.

The fraudsters will use your information to take your money, and in some cases, for identity theft.

How to detect ‘DVLA’ scams

Fake emails and texts can be very realistic, however, you can avoid this car buying scam simply by being aware of the fact that the DVLA and GOV.UK will never operate in this way. These fake communications are likely to have a non-personalised greeting and are likely to come from an email, which on closer inspection, is not the official body’s genuine email address.

How to avoid ‘DVLA’ scams

The DVLA and GOV.UK will never send you communications asking you to confirm your identity or provide banking details. If you are ever the recipient of such communications, delete them.


Rip-off mechanics

The majority of garages and mechanics wouldn’t dream of overcharging or ripping off their customers. However, this car scam sees some mechanics or garages charging for parts, labour, or adding unnecessary MOT faults to drive up the cost.

How to detect rip-off mechanics

This scam can be hard to spot unless you have some in-depth car knowledge. However, if you get hit with new, unsuspecting faults, or expensive parts and labour every time you visit the garage, the alarm bells should be ringing.

How to avoid rip-off mechanics

To avoid this you should only use approved garages. It’s also best practice to do some background research into these garages and assess customer reviews, and their accreditations and awards. When they come to work on your car, get them to explain what they are repairing and why, and what parts they are using.


Fake websites for licence renewals

In the UK, drivers have to renew their photocard licence every 10 years, whether in person at the Post Office or online at the DVLA. However, scammers have tried to take advantage of those who renew online by creating fake websites. These appear similar in name and layout to the official sites for renewing your photocard licence.

If you submit your personal information and bank details to these sites, the fraudsters can do a lot of financial damage.

How to detect fake licence renewal websites

When renewing your driver’s licence, make sure the website has the legitimate web address of the DVLA or Post Office. Also, be wary of any site that asks for information that is not relevant to your car, such as your mother’s maiden name or how long you’ve lived in your house.

How to avoid fake licence renewal websites

To avoid this car scam, go through the official channels linked above to renew your photocard licence. Alternatively, you can visit the Post Office to get it renewed.


Induced accident scams

Also known as crash for cash scams, this car scam is a type of motor insurance fraud that involves the fraudster purposefully causing an accident that you’ll get blamed for. You will lose your no-claims bonus, your premiums will go up, and the scammers will make inflated claims against you to get away with more money.

There are many variations of this car scam. One sees the criminal flash their lights to let you by, only to drive into you claiming they never flashed at all and you just pulled out. Another induced accident scam sees the fraudster suddenly braking so you go into the back of them.

How to detect cash for crash scams

Look out for cars that are driving unusually, or speeding up and slowing down to try to get people close to the back of them. With induced accident scams, there may be more than one car and scammer involved and they may try to signal to one another. There could be a too-convenient witness as well, who is in on it and who just so happened to see it was “all your fault”.

How to avoid cash for crash scams

It’s essential to keep your braking distance whilst driving. A dashcam is invaluable here too, as it can show the truth of the situation. Should the unfortunate happen and you get into an accident, if you think it was suspicious call the police and don’t admit liability.

Car buying scams

When buying a car, you need to be alert and act with caution to protect yourself from fraudulent sellers. Here are some examples of common car buying scams:

Car cloning scam

One of the most common car buying scams is car cloning. This is where criminals steal the identity of a legally registered car and use it to hide the identity of a stolen or salvaged vehicle that looks similar. The stolen car is then sold or used in various criminal activities, but the offences are wrongly attributed to the original cloned car.

How to detect car cloning

When buying a car it’s good practice to check the number plate against the V5C logbook and VIN number. Additionally, it’s good practice to get a vehicle history check as this will tell you whether the car has been stolen or scrapped.

How to avoid car cloning

Car cloning can be hard to avoid as often you’ll only realise you are a victim after it happens. However, the most effective way to avoid this is by purchasing a vehicle through a trusted dealership. If you are considering buying from a private seller, you need to be cautious and only buy a car that has a V5C registration. When checking a vehicle’s V5C registration it’s good practice to check whether the DVLA watermark is present, if so, it is likely to be a genuine document.


The cut and shut scam

The cut and shut is a more elaborate version of car cloning. In this car buying scam, the vehicle has been made from the damaged remains of two or more vehicles. Not only is this car scam incredibly unsafe, but it’s also highly illegal.

How to detect cut and shut scams

Before purchasing a car, you should perform a visual inspection. When inspecting the vehicle, you will need to look for panel gaps and misaligned panels as this would indicate that the vehicle is involved in a cut and shut scam. Additionally, you should check for different shades of paint on a car and be suspicious if the price is significantly below market value.

How to avoid cut and shut scams

Not only can a visual inspection of the vehicle detect this scam, but a history check will reveal information about the car. You can also make sure the VIN numbers and logbook match – if they don’t, don’t buy the car.


Car ringing scam

A car ringing scam is similar to car cloning as it involves hiding the identity of a stolen car. However, unlike car cloning, under this scam, the stolen car is given the identity of a written-off vehicle. The ringed vehicle is then sold to an unsuspecting buyer.

How to detect ringing

When buying a car, check that the registration and VIN match the logbook. It’s also important to check whether the registration plate has been tampered with. If the numbers don’t match, or if there is evidence of tampering with the registration plate, do not buy the vehicle.

How to avoid ringing

If you follow the checks to detect ringing, you’ll be able to avoid this scam. Remember, if something seems suspicious just walk away from the deal.


Car clocking scam

Clocking is a car buying scam that involves manually reducing the car’s mileage on the odometer as a way to increase its value. The fraudster will then sell the car to an unsuspecting buyer who believes that the car has done fewer miles than it actually has.

How to detect car clocking

The best way to detect car clocking is by getting a full history check. This check will provide you with a detailed background of the car and it should include a yearly record of mileage. You can then use this to see whether it matches the mileage on the odometer.

How to avoid car clocking

By getting a vehicle history check, you will be able to see whether the mileage on the odometer is accurate. If you decide not to get this check, can also check the car’s MOT history on the DVLA website, as this will provide knowledge of how the mileage has built up over the years. Finally, assess whether the car’s condition is what you would expect for a vehicle of that mileage.


Virtual vehicle scams

Virtual vehicle scams aim to take money from eager buyers. Fraudsters will clone an ad from elsewhere and put it up online on a marketplace, with an enticing deal. The fraudulent seller will then forego the proper channels of the trade site and email you directly. They may be pushy or claim there’s lots of interest, all in a bid to secure a deposit or the full amount from you, and your contact and banking details – without you seeing the car in person.

How to detect virtual vehicle scams

This scam usually involves an elaborate story as to why you can’t view the car. The vehicle is typically under-priced and the seller will make it look as if it’s in high demand – this is all in an attempt to gain interest and to make a quick sale.

How to avoid virtual vehicle scams

If the seller won’t let you view the car in person that’s a clear sign to avoid buying from them. Additionally, if the seller is based overseas or if they insist on communicating outside the proper channels of a marketplace, walk away.


Dodgy car dealer acting as a private seller

A few unscrupulous car dealers may try to forego their responsibilities and legal regulations by acting as a private seller. This means they can get away with things they normally wouldn’t be able to, such as not disclosing faults or providing a three-month warranty.

How to detect dodgy private sellers

A seller will typically ask to meet to view the car anywhere but the address on the car’s logbook. If you view the car at the seller’s house, check to see if they have many cars on their drive. Additionally, another red flag would be if they claim to be selling the car for a friend or family member.

How to avoid dodgy private sellers

Check the V5C logbook to make sure the car is registered in their name, and not someone else. Ask lots of questions about the car’s history to see if they know the answers and details of the vehicle. If they claim to be selling on behalf of another person, you should be very wary and ask to meet that person and ask why they aren’t personally selling it.


Facebook car buying scams

Facebook Marketplace can be a great opportunity to purchase a car, however, it does come with its risks.

One Facebook car buying scam sees sellers advertising a car for sale and asking for a deposit before they deliver the car. Once the money has been received, the seller will disappear from the platform and the car will never be delivered.

How to detect Facebook car buying scams

As with other online car buying scams, you need to be wary of listings where the price of the car is significantly below market value. It’s also best practice to view the vehicle prior to purchase.

How to avoid Facebook car buying scams

If you are considering buying a car through Facebook Marketplace it’s worth researching the profile of the individual. How many friends do they have? When did they join the platform? What is their profile picture? A newly joined seller with little to no friends and a generic profile picture should be a red flag.

You should also ask to see the vehicle’s V5 and ensure that the address on it matches up with the seller’s and ask to view the car prior to purchase or leaving a deposit.

How not to get scammed when buying a car

When buying a car its important to do your research and remain vigilant. Here, are our top tips on how to not get scammed when buying a car: 

  1. Be realistic: If it sounds too good of a deal, such as the price and mileage not matching the make, age, and model, it probably is. Luring buyers with an unrealistic deal is a tactic of many car scammers.
  2. Check with the DVLA: Before buying a car get the registration number, make, and model from the seller so you can check what information the DVLA has on the car. It’s free and fast to do.
  3. Use a traceable payment method: Don’t buy a vehicle with cash, as there’s no way to trace that should you fall prey to a car scam. Also, be sure to view the car first before you transfer any money and make sure the seller is the registered owner and the car is in its advertised condition.
  4. Watch for phishing scams: Be wary of unexpected phone calls and/or suspicious emails that claim to be from an insurer, the DVLA, or other such company. Phishing scams attempt to disguise themselves as reputable companies – don’t give them your personal details or click embedded email links.
  5. Inspect the VINs: Check all the Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) on the car match one another and the V5C logbook. It’s the best way to establish the car’s identity. If they don’t match, don’t buy the car.
  6. View the car at its logbook address: While a layby or service station might be more convenient, view the car at the address that is stated in its logbook. It’s a good way to deter a potential car scam.
  7. Don’t buy with cash. It’s not traceable and it’s not a wise idea to carry large sums when buying from a private seller either. Instead, go to the bank with the seller and do a transfer. At car dealerships, finance is a great option because it makes the finance company and the dealership liable if things go wrong with the car. Remember, you can walk away at any point. Don’t feel obligated or pushed to buy.

Stolen Car Checks

If you unknowingly buy a stolen vehicle, the police can reclaim it without providing any compensation to you.

For this reason, you should conduct a stolen car check when buying a used car. It’s easy and inexpensive to do a stolen car check and it can prevent complications further down the line.

Organisations like HPI allow you to run the registration of a car to receive accurate, up-to-date information. This report will highlight if the vehicle has been in an accident and provide info as to whether it’s stolen, cloned, or clocked, and whether there’s outstanding debt.

Common car selling scams

When selling your car, it’s essential to exercise caution and remain vigilant to protect yourself from potential fraudulent buyers. Here are some examples of common car selling scams,

Vehicle matching scams

Otherwise known as ‘I have a buyer waiting’, this type of car selling scam is when someone approaches you falsely claiming that they have a buyer waiting for your car. In order for you to be matched to the buyer, they will claim that you need to pay something called a finder’s fee. In the majority of cases, the buyer does not exist and they will take your money, bank details and other personal information.

How to detect vehicle matching scams

The fixer will be a cold caller who will make up many stories about the buyer to make it seem like they are a real person in order to entice you.

How to avoid vehicle matching scams

If someone approaches you claiming that they have a buyer, do not engage in a conversation with them and never give them money. No legitimate buyer would go through a matching company.


‘I don’t need to view it’ car scam

When selling a car, be wary of prospective buyers who are happy to make the purchase without viewing the car.

In this car selling scam, the potential buyer will claim that they do not need to view the car. They will then damage the car or purposely get into a minor accident, claiming that the damage caused was there before they purchased the vehicle. Due to this, they will then try and get money from you to cover the ‘damages’.

How to detect this scam

It’s unusual for prospective buyers to not need to view the vehicle. While there will be some well-intentioned buyers who make this request, be cautious and follow the steps below.

How to avoid this scam

When putting your car up for sale it’s a good idea to describe your car in as much detail as possible and mention any faults, dents or scratches. For evidence, it’s good practice to take photographs of any faults should you later need to rely on them.

One final tip is to write “sold as seen” on the receipt for the purchase and have the buyer sign it.


The dirty oil car scam

The dirty oil car scam is where a potential buyer tampers with the vehicle’s coolant reservoir in order to lower the price of the car.

As part of this scam, a group of people may come to view the car. They will use distraction techniques so that one of the group can secretly pour oil into the coolant reservoir. When they start the car up, the engine will smoke and the scammers will demand a significant discount as they falsely claim that the engine is wrecked.

How to detect the dirty oil car scam

This scam can be tricky to spot as many genuine buyers will want to check every inch of your car. However, if it feels like someone is trying to distract you, be extra cautious and don’t let them succeed. Remember, if you suspect foul play or feel uncomfortable in the sale, you can always refuse to sell to them.

How to avoid the dirty oil car scam

When buyers come to view your car, stay with them at all times. If they look at the engine or other sensitive areas that could be tampered with, don’t let them be by themselves. Additionally, if you have to leave your car unattended for a moment, lock it and shut the bonnet. If the buyer’s behaviour is suspicious, refuse the sale.


‘I overpaid. Can you refund me the extra?’ car scam

This is another car selling scam, where the buyer cannot meet you in person. In this scam, the fraudster will say they have made the payment and that they have ‘accidentally’ made too much. They will then ask you to refund them the difference when in reality they did not make the payment in the first place, or if they did, it was not legitimate (i.e the cheque was forged or illegible).

How to detect overpayment scams

The moment any buyer says “I’ve accidentally overpaid you” be cautious and keep yourself protected by waiting. If the buyer becomes pushy, make it clear that you are just being careful.

How to avoid overpayment scams

Don’t hand any money back over until the cheque has cleared or the transfer is complete. You will then be able to see whether or not they have overpaid and take the appropriate steps to rectify it.


‘This car is overpriced and/or faulty. Can I get a discount?’ car scam

Fraudsters will appear to have in-depth car knowledge as a means to decrease the price. They will assess your vehicle and highlight all the reasons why it’s overpriced to try and get you to offer a discount. If successful in buying the car, they will then sell the car for a higher price.

How to detect car negotiation scams

This is a little trickier to spot as a genuine buyer may bring a mechanic or a car expert with them to check the vehicle over. Nonetheless, scammers will give themselves away because they’ll be insisting the car is worth less and they’ll be pointing out “faults” that “prove” they are right.

How to avoid car negotiation scams

Never feel pressured into selling your car – if someone takes this stance, you can kindly refuse to sell to them. If you are selling your car, it’s a good idea to research the market and get a free car valuation so that you can set a reasonable price. For additional reassurance that your vehicle is fairly priced, you can get a mechanic to check your car prior to listing it for sale.


‘I’m abroad just now, but I’ll pay online’ car scam

Fraudsters will appear genuinely interested in your vehicle. They will ask questions and present themselves to be respectable individuals. However, when it comes to payment, they will suggest using an online payment method, such as PayPal. They will then send you what appears to be a convincing fake receipt to falsely indicate that they have made the payment. In reality, they won’t have transferred the money.

Following this, they will request that you arrange the shipment or delivery of the car. Alternatively, they may do the above in a different order, refusing to make a payment until the car has been shipped to them.

How to detect overseas buyer scams

The moment someone suggests making an online payment, be extra careful.

How to avoid overseas buyer scams

Never arrange transport, shipment, or hand over your car, its keys, or any documentation until you have received payment and it has cleared in your bank account. Watch out for fake emails and receipts as they can be extremely realistic. Stick to your instincts and wait for the money to clear in your account before doing anything.

How to avoid being scammed when selling a car

When selling a car you need to do your research and remain vigilant. Here, are our top tips to avoid being scammed when selling a car privately:

  1. Be wary of anyone wanting to buy your car without seeing it in person
  2. Do not let prospective buyers into your house
  3. Never hand car keys or vehicle documents until payment has cleared in your account
  4. If the buyer pays by cheque make sure it clears before handing anything over
  5. Describe your car accurately, including any damage, so you and the buyer know its condition
  6. Be wary of anyone who claims a friend or relative will pay in their stead
  7. Watch out for phishing scams and don’t give out personal info in emails or over the phone
  8. Don’t be pressured into selling, especially if you feel something’s not quite right
  9. Be cautious of overseas buyers, especially if they want you to cover transport costs
  10. Go around the car with the buyer and have them sign a ‘sold as seen’ receipt

Frequently Asked Questions